CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan, Champions League quarter-final second leg, April 6, 2010
If there is to a be a giant-killing in the last eight of the Champions League than perhaps the team to back could be CSKA Moscow. The cold Luzhniki Stadium will provide a hostile venue for Inter Milan to defend their slim 1-nil victory garnered from the first leg, particularly as the match is to be played on an artificial surface which will put the Italians at a disadvantage. (Draw/CSKA Moscow is 6.50.)
Jose Mourinho’s men may be ruing having not added to Diego Milito’s well-placed strike from the edge of the CSKA area at the San Siro. A mixture of spurned opportunities from the Italians and good goalkeeping from Igor Akinfeev prevented Inter increasing their lead, leaving the Special One to summarise after the match “we played in a way where we should be able to be already thinking about the semi-finals but unfortunately we are not and we have a difficult game in Moscow to come.”
The result falls into a larger picture for the Nerazzurri, as the black and blues try to rescue their season from the brink of implosion at just the wrong time.
Having cruised through much of the domestic season, Inter have begun to struggle lately, winning just three of their last ten league games. Defeat to Roma last week meant the side from the capital moved to within a point of Jose Mourinho’s charges, and the Giallorossi kept up the pressure with a hard-fought victory at Bari on Saturday. Inter responded with a win of their own, a comfortable 3-0 victory over Bologna at the San Siro in which Thiago Motta claimed a brace and Mario Balotelli marked his return from his exile with a goal.
In Europe though Inter have sparkled, particularly as they reached the last eight stage by defeating Chelsea in style. All of a sudden though the focus is on Inter, and it still needs to be proved that the Italians had shaken off their big-time bottlers’ label which has dogged them for the past decade in European football.
Inter will be able to recall Javier Zanetti, Maicon, Lucio and Samuel Eto’o after all three were suspended against Bologna at the weekend. The match also saw Davide Santon and and Welsey Sneijder return to the starting eleven after recent injuries, and both should be available for selection in Russia.
Mourinho has other selection options to ponder, with Mario Balotelli available up front along with Goran Pandev, while Diego Milito will also be looking for a starting berth with the Argentine having bagged 18 goals in Serie A this season.
Turning to the hosts, CSKA’s biggest concern may be rustiness with the Russian season only in its opening weeks of the season while the Moscow side’s match against Zenit last night was postponed due to security concerns following the bomb blasts on the Moscow metro last Monday which killed 39 people.
While CSKA were almost rock-solid in Italy in the first leg, the Russians will be looking to their star studded forward-line as they aim to overturn their 1-nil deficit. Arguably their greatest talent in that regard is Japanese international Keisuke Honda who transferred his talents from leading VVV Venlo into the Dutch top flight by shining for CSKA in the Champions League scoring the tie-winner against Sevilla in Seville.
Aside from Honda, CSKA will field speedy blonde-locked playmaker Milos Krasic alongside former Liverpool winger Mark Gonzalez, while their central striking threat will be posed by Tomas Necid. Coach Leonid Skutsky also has the luxury of having the much-hyped teenager Alan Dzagoev on his bench, and the future-star-of-tomorrow could well make a name for himself as an impact substitute.
Unlike many Italian teams, Jose Mourinho is unlikely to be heading to Russia thinking that his charges will be simply trying to hold onto what they’ve got and inviting CSKA to attack them. Instead, much like their tactics at Stamford Bridge where Inter started with an ambitious 4-3-3 formation, the Nerazzurri will play either two or three strikers, and will be looking for the crucial away goal to swing the tie further in their favour.
That should offer CSKA the opportunity to attack their guests on the counter-attack, and should the Russians score first then we could be in for a barnstormer.
101gg predicts: CSKA Moscow 2 – Inter Milan 1 (10.01)